Concerns about traffic, transit emerge in potential Commanders move

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A Washington Commanders move to Prince William County could intensify transportation hurdles in an area of Northern Virginia that suffers from chronic traffic congestion and is largely underserved by public transit.

The news that the Commanders recently acquired the right to purchase land in Woodbridge as a possible site for a new stadium prompted concern among fans, residents and local officials, who worry about traffic that would exacerbate gridlock along the Interstate 95 corridor, which carries about 232,000 vehicles daily.

The location, near the Potomac Mills shopping center, is 23 miles south of the nation’s capital and accessible only by car. While the Commanders’ current home, FedEx Field in Landover, is not transit-oriented, its inside-the-Beltway location is about a mile from two Metro stations and accessible by bus and bike, and is a quick car ride from more densely populated parts of the Washington region.

“I can’t think of a place that would be worse than that area of Northern Virginia. You get to Lorton going southbound on 95 and everything tends to bottleneck really quickly,” said Nick John, a D.C. resident and football fan. “You can be in standstill traffic for hours.”

Commanders acquire right to buy 200 acres in Va. for potential new stadium

Without significant investment in roads and transit, a stadium in Woodbridge probably would add to traffic nightmares despite improvements in the works. Woodbridge is served daily by Amtrak’s Northeast Regional line, while the Virginia Railway Express and OmniRide, the county’s bus service, operate only on weekdays to bring commuters into the city in the morning and back in the evening. A one-way Uber ride from D.C. is generally more than $50. A bike ride would take nearly three hours.

The Commanders’ agreement for the option to buy about 200 acres for about $100 million signals the franchise is serious about Woodbridge. The team has narrowed its stadium search to also include four other locations: near Potomac Shores Golf Club in Dumfries, a site near Dulles International Airport in Sterling, RFK Stadium in Washington and a site near FedEx Field.

In addition to the stadium, the team wants to build a vast commercial and residential complex that supporters call a “mini-city,” including a convention center, concert venue, hotels, restaurants and housing.

Virginia state Sen. Scott A. Surovell (D-Fairfax), whose district includes both of the potential sites in Prince William County, said the stadium and surrounding development could benefit the area and spur the state to make much-needed transportation investments, including in mass transit.

“I’m sure the No. 1 concern on this for everybody is traffic. That’s the biggest question mark on this project,” said Surovell, noting that he and Del. Luke E. Torian (D-Prince William) have been pushing to extend Metro to the county for 13 years. “I think this project will jump-start the conversation about getting transit to Prince William.”

Del. Danica A. Roem (D), who represents western Prince William County, said investments would not come quickly enough to the transportation infrastructure to support a stadium. The Commanders’ lease expires in Landover in 2027.

“How could anyone look at the disaster that happened on Interstate 95 during the winter and say, ‘You know what Interstate 95 needs in Woodbridge? A stadium!’” said Roem, referring to the Jan. 3 snowstorm that left vehicles stranded along 48 miles of the interstate for more than 24 hours.

Frank Principi, a Woodbridge-area resident who served on the county’s Board of Supervisors for more than a decade, said state investments to improve traffic and increase transit in the corridor prepared the ground for a potential home to the Commanders. Principi said a Potomac River ferry is also an option that should be explored.

I-95′s capacity was expanded in recent years to include high-occupancy toll lanes. The state is also building an auxiliary lane southbound from the Route 123 interchange — which will see its own improvements to improve traffic flow — to the Prince William Parkway. State transportation officials said those projects, along with widening a road south of Prince William County, will bring relief to one of the most congested highway segments on the East Coast.

Transit options are slated to improve in the next decade, particularly with intercity and commuter train service expected to grow as part of a $3.7 billion state rail program. Plans call for a VRE expansion that would introduce weekend, bidirectional and nonpeak hour service before the end of the decade. The shared VRE and Amtrak station is about 2½ miles from the potential site of the stadium, close enough for a possible shuttle service, officials said.

VRE spokeswoman Karen Finucan Clarkson said it is premature to discuss future service as it relates to the Commanders and said many improvements must happen for VRE to expand service. Among those is construction of a second rail bridge over the Potomac River to create a four-track crossing, a project that is expected to be built by 2030.

Virginia to build Long Bridge and acquire CSX right of way to expand passenger train service

Surovell said the long-term answer lies in extending Metro service to Woodbridge, adding that “it’s definitely doable in 10 to 15 [years] if our region wanted to get serious about it.”

State Sen. Jeremy S. McPike (D-Prince William) said transportation issues surrounding the project present “huge hurdles.”

“With a project of this size, you have to look at all options, both road improvements and transit improvements,” he said.

Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, an organization that calls for pedestrian-friendly communities built around mass transit, said a stadium would create significant problems for Prince William County on game days.

“We’ve already seen what happened at the very auto-dependent location in Prince George’s that, immediately upon opening day, ended up with massive traffic jams on game days,” he said, referring to FedEx Field. “We are likely to be repeating those mistakes in this proposed location.”

Tavon “RevT” Fennell, a Dale City resident and lifelong fan of the Commanders, said a stadium 10 minutes from his home would be convenient for him, but would create traffic nightmares, adding that he’s afraid fans in Maryland and D.C. would stop going to the games.

“Can you imagine a Monday night game? Who wants to sit in traffic for 2½ hours to go the stadium?” said Fennell, a D.C. native.

Chris Butler, a lifelong fan of the football team, said he wouldn’t renew his season pass and probably would attend fewer games if the team moves to Prince William County. Still, Butler said he loves the team and would find a way to get wherever they settle.

“I want to be able to have the option not to drive,” said Butler, 30, of Northeast Washington. “They aren’t the DMV Commanders or Virginia Commanders; they are the Washington Commanders, and I feel they should play as close to the city of Washington, D.C., as possible. I don’t think Dumfries or Woodbridge suffices that.”